After our time in the Cordillera Blanca and a couple more nights staying at Camping Guadalupe we needed a few days of solid internet and extra hot showers. We headed south to hit Lima on our not so direct route towards Cusco. We talked about driving through the mountain roads but this time the easier way was calling our name. We drove out of the area and stopped once again for the same incredibly large and delicious portion of arroz chaufa. We had a one night stop in the larger town of Huaraz specifically to check out the Sierra Andina brewery. Eric made sure to purchase every option, two of some bottles of course, just for good measure.
Driving into Lima had been making me anxious for hours the following day. We had heard numerous stories from so many different people that Lima’s population were the worst drivers ever. Since Peruvian drivers in general were already insane, we were scared. Luckily there were only a handful of ‘we almost got hit by a bus’ incidents and we made it into the city just fine. We holed up at a comfortable hotel near the ocean and became hermits for about 3 days. Sometimes during the months of travel not seeing things has to be OK. We worked, had dinners in and enjoyed some quiet. From Lima we headed south to Nazca. It was conveniently a reasonable drive to do in one day and was situated at the turnoff to head east towards Cusco. Right before you arrive to the actual town of Nazca you pass through the archeological site where they found grand scale geoglyphs etched into the earth’s surface. We paid our 5 soles each and climbed up the rickety, red scaffolding structure to get a rather terrible view of the famous Nazca lines. The image known as the ‘hands’ was the clearest by far. The other option is to get in a plane and fly over the area. We didn’t have the money or time for that so this roadside attraction was our Nazca experience. That evening we spent the night camping in an old hotel courtyard surrounded by what sounded like 100 cooing birds.
Our drive to Cusco was great. The road is incredibly windy, sometimes passing through small towns and other times miles before we would see another car. We saw fields of hundreds of llamas, vicunas, and alpacas. The weather went from desert heat and sand, to plains of grasses to small amounts of ice and snow at the top of the pass. We took two days to make it to Cusco. Once we arrived, we had to drive through the main plaza, twice, because of blocked streets, one ways and our map telling us to drive up a road that was actually a staircase. Eventually we landed at a great spot above the city. The woman running the camp area was so friendly and upon settling in provided us a packet of information about the city, from all the ways to get to Machu Picchu, the best coffee shops, medical info and a price sheet for the fresh eggs she sold. We stayed here for 4 days. Our intention was to stay two and start the Salkantay trek we had been planning on day three. Eric had travelled to Peru in 2010 to visit a friend and they completed the same 4 day route. If you want to hear the stories about their acclimatization, how long it takes a person to eat a pound of spaghetti alone and if it’s easy helping a sleeping friend put on his own pajamas, you’ll have to ask them. None the less, we felt confident to make the trip. The only unexpected thing stopping us was feeling sick and miserable for the days prior to this plan. In the end we couldn’t wait any longer to heal our bodies and made the decision to make the trip a fast one. We were sad about missing the trek but we took the Inca Rail train and it was an awesome choice. It is definitely the more spendy way to go but we loved the views and the whole experience (especially the tea and cookies).
The town of Aguas Calientes itself isn’t impressive. It is so touristy and expensive for terrible quality, anything. The location is beautiful, don’t get me wrong but one day there is plenty. We found a cheap place to stay and were serenaded by the Miss Aguas Calientes coronation ceremony until the early hours of the morning. Even though we woke up a bit grouchy, it was easy to get over the lack of sleep as our morning bus climbed up the steep hillside. The views kept getting better and the fog was slowly receding to reveal a perfect day for exploring the famous site.
All in all, Machu Picchu was stunning. We spent hours walking around, managing to take a few pictures without other tourists heads or bodies in them. The photographs can speak for themselves here.
After returning to Cusco we did some market shopping for the mandatory wool gifts and enjoyed our last day wandering around. We split up the drive time south to Lake Titicaca by stopping at the world’s weirdest hot springs. Imagine hot spring concrete pools, with bathwater from last year located at a truck stop. Yep, that’s where we were. It was one of those times where we just had to relax, have a beer (or three) and accept that we have been in some weird places on this journey. The next day we drove through one of the worst cities yet. In terms of directional fails, roads not existing or being under construction, levels of trash and miserable drivers. I know if I said the name out loud now, Eric would shudder. Our place of rest that evening was a quaint little hotel with a small grassy courtyard outside of the town of Puno. Puno is the main city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. After we had paid and set up camp the woman running the place came up to me and said something very fast. I caught enough to know that we were about to try something and she was going to bring it out right now. My ‘yes’ to her mystery question turned out to be the best ever as she showed up to the door of Pedro with two steaming bowls of stew and the most delicious plate of quinoa either of us had ever eaten. She showed us later in the yard that she was drying some, laid out on a blanket in the sun like coffee beans. She explained that you make the quinoa with milk, cream, and cheese. We didn’t have the heart to tell her that in the US it’s a “healthy” grain and that recipe wouldn’t fly. The only other people there were Sarah and Erdem of www.nonurbia.com, an awesome couple travelling through the Americas as well, just at a different pace. We hope to meet up with them as we all get further south!
Arequipa was our final stop in Peru. The drive from Puno to Arequipa was beautiful. More fields filled with llamas, small, high altitude lakes, and slow cruising speeds from Pedro due to the elevation. The central area of Arequipa was pretty. We wandered around blocks of older buildings, and a beautiful main plaza, though the cathedral was shrouded in scaffolding and under repair. There were lots of shops to buy alpaca sweaters and coats, and small cafes and restaurants throughout the neighborhoods. Our first evening we saw a tiny Mexican restaurant and since we are craving tacos at all times, we gave it a shot. We should have followed our gut, as it was pretty terrible. But they did have the spiciest salsa to cover everything in and their margaritas were full glasses of tequila and fresh lime juice. Always an upside! Our drive south to the border was dry as a bone as we continued to make our way through the desert.
The next few weeks will be spent in Northern Chile, looking for some beach spots and crossing our fingers that Pedro makes it through the Atacama Desert!